Warning Lights

As you approach the bus stop, look in your mirrors to check traffic conditions. Remember to continually observe and use your mirrors to check on traffic and students. Activate the flashing amber warning lights at least 200 feet or approximately 5–10 seconds before the school bus stop.

— The 2019 Oklahoma School Bus Driver Manual

Our world is full of warning lights. They pulse, they glow, they flash repetitively at us in our daily lives, the color yellow in many shades and hues, constantly reminding us to be cautious, slow down, to tread lightly.

I heard a sermon once from a man named Andy Stanley. The son of the great Charles Stanley, and a powerful communicator, his sermon was entitled “Guardrails,” and it is great. One of the salient points of the series was that guardrails are never placed where the actual danger is. Instead, they are placed before the danger; they are a way of communicating you should slow down or stop before it’s too late. The same thought can be applied to warning lights.

“Stay away.”

“Slow down.”

“Something you don’t want to experience lies ahead.”

•••

Last Wednesday I tried to step back and appreciate the games for what they were. I tried to take my fanship out of it, and I tried to just look at it from an outsider’s perspective. What I wound up observing was less of an athletic event and more akin to a family reunion with a Rowdy Crowd.

The first thing I noticed were the multiple retired educators in attendance. There were several, and I did my best to calculate the shared number of years dedicated to Okay Public Schools. The best estimate I got was something over 150 and just shy of 200, and 90 of those were shared by just two teachers. In a day and age of shifting loyalties and cancelations due to perceived infractions of ever-changing rules, they’re here. They bleed orange.

I noticed the Facebook Warriors next. Regardless of my thoughts on their stances, they filled the stands, the grip on their phones temporarily suspended in favor of clapping and cheering for the girls as they absolutely stomped their way to a decisive first place win.

Laptops seemed abundant. Students working on assignments in between sets; in between points and claps and yells. Mothers out supporting their kids, taking personal days but knowing all too well that work doesn’t stop just because you fill out a time off request. Fans of opposing teams also busy with work or updating Facebook for the folks unlucky enough to have jobs that wouldn’t let them travel to a small town on a Wednesday afternoon.

Students excited to be out of class. Faculty excited to be…well, also out of class. Parents. Alumni. Friends. Loved ones. Brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews. All of them there supporting the girls, shouting for the deployment of the amber lights.

•••

As the guy who runs the clock, I’ve been reminded countless times by officials, opposing fans, and Mrs. Collins that I’m supposed to be somewhat neutral. The thing is, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of it. Watching Lexi put dents in the floor; watching Alex hang in the air longer than any one person has a right to; watching Sydney diving all over the court like some sort of falcon while perfectly placing balls in the air for the aforementioned gliders and denters; watching Bailey serve fourteen straight points; Janie throwing balls at points on the floor the other team forgot to cover; Casper quietly waiting with her killer left hand; Taylor doing her best to make Syd look like the second-best diver…I’m sorry, but neutrality while looking from behind the score table is not ever going to happen.

For those of you looking to Mrs. Collins to set the example…you’re out of luck. You may not hear her, but I do. And she’s anything but neutral.

To cap it off, wearing my last name and my old jersey number, cheering along with every ace, kill, and save, is my daughter.

Two years ago I wrote a piece as the Lady Mustangs traveled to Shawnee High School and to eventual disappointment. My blonde-haired baby was just a freshman, wide-eyed and experiencing the excitement that only a high school state tournament can bring. The electricity. The heartbreak.

She’s a junior now, sacrificing her body (we had a recent kneecap scare) and letting this town know the next generation of Sloats are ready and willing to do what’s needed for the team. As such, she’s earned her spot. A lynchpin. A capacitor in the motherboard of the now activated ambers, blinking silently for the opponent.

Slow down.

Get ready.

Something you don’t want to experience lies ahead.

•••

And now, three days away: State. The Lady Mustangs Invitational, I like to call it, because it seems we’re a staple. The Land of Giants. The Story of 1997. The Time We Got the Banner. The Place of Frustrations. The Arena of Heartbreak.

The location changes yearly, but the names live on regardless of the sign on the building.

Our group of girls is not without their flaws. Throughout the season I have oft accused them of creating something called the “Lady Mustang Law” which states, in part, that whatever happens in the first set will cause the polar opposite to occur in the next set. This can be both brutal and satisfying, however, it definitely causes the majority of us fans to require blood pressure medication.

On Wednesday, October 6, 2021, The Okay Lady Mustang Volleyball team activated their amber lights. At just under 140 miles and a shade over two hours from Choctaw High School, the 2019 Oklahoma School Bus Driver Manual might say they started the warning a bit too early. Make no mistake about it: they did it on purpose.

Six straight sets of warning lights.

Pulsing shades of amber for their future opponents.

A simple message: The stop sign is about to deploy.

Your ride is almost over.

•••

And finally, to our Lady Mustangs, know that we are behind you. Some will travel with you, others will stay behind and cheer from behind phones or television sets. Win or lose, you are returning to Okay as heroes to all 500 of us. But make no mistake: Okay wants another banner. We want to update the signs outside our town.

The great Scottish poet Robert Burns once penned the lines:

“By oppression’s woes and pains!

By your sons in servile chains!

We will drain our dearest veins,

But they shall be free!”

Just like all of the fans behind you, we know you ladies bleed orange.

Now go paint some floors with it.

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Travis Sloat

Travis Sloat

Husband to Alicia and father to four kids: three imports and one domestic. English teacher, writer, hunter, and fisherman. I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.